May 16, 2023

Following up on part 1 of this article series, a purpose-driven culture isn’t just about connecting to a set of higher ideals. It’s about putting people first. That means building the purpose of your organization into your employee experience—considering how people relate to each other and to their work environment and how they conduct themselves daily. It’s about working with them to connect the company purpose to your employees’ lives (inside and outside of work) and collaborating with them to integrate these tenets into the fabric of the organization.

1. Work with leaders to define (or redefine) your larger purpose

When working with leaders to define organizational purpose, workplace experts like Dave Clare recommend looking beyond profits to ask questions such as, Why does the company exist? and What intrinsic value does it provide? In Harvard Business Review, a team of business leaders with backgrounds in strategy, marketing and HR suggest that “purpose-driven” can be understood in three ways (notice that employees and internal factors show up in each): 

  • Competence—the function that our product serves (presents a clear value proposition for both customers and employees).
  • Cause—the social good to which we aspire (aligns customers, employees and communities around the societal benefits the company generates).
  • Culture—the intent with which we run our business (creates internal alignment and collaboration with key partners). 

The authors posit that many companies experience challenges when there is “a perceived lack of alignment between how they behave and what they say they stand for.” They caution that being purpose-driven only works “if you demonstrate authenticity and coherence.” Finally, it’s not static. Because what stakeholders value may change over time, your purpose may need to evolve as well.

Next step: Consider your company’s “why” for existing (the value you provide beyond profit). And if you’re not already there, collaborate with leaders to capture this idea in a statement that resonates authentically for your employees, customers and other stakeholders.

2. Align your purpose to human-centric core values

In today’s “people-first” business environment, your purpose must tie to “human-centric” core values. Andreea Vanacker describes human-centric as “… bringing greater humanity in the way we lead, manage and grow employees, along with our business.” She goes on to say: “Traditional command and control models, with a fear-based leadership dynamic, are being replaced by more conscious leadership cultures with a stronger focus on purpose, psychological safety, growth and mental well-being of employees.”

Next step: Capture how your purpose connects to your core values and cultural aspirations, such as diversity, equity and inclusion. Be ready to interpret how these values translate to life inside your organization.

3. Connect your purpose to your people

According to McKinsey & Co. research, 70 percent of employees say their sense of purpose is defined by their work. That means most of your employees are wired to care about your organizational purpose in a personal way. They need guidance to not only understand the purpose and values of the organization, but also to be able to interpret them in a way that affects their behavior and choices. A well-articulated code of conduct, along with education and training that focuses on how employees can support each other to feel included and interact in a way that fosters belonging, respect and fairness can go a long way to bridging your purpose to your people.

Next step: Provide employees with the training and education they need to understand how their own behavior and choices can support a purpose-driven culture.

70% of employees say their sense of purpose is defined by their work

4. Empower leaders and managers to bring your purpose and values to life

Leaders and managers yield the power to affect and influence the hearts and minds of your employees. Research finds that what leaders say and do makes up to a 70 percent difference as to whether an individual feels included. For example, that means if your purpose and core values include cultivating a safe and inclusive work environment, it simply can’t be done without this important group. But to get there, your leaders and managers need to know not only how to embody your organization’s purpose and values, but also how to support their employees to do the same.

Next step: Provide managers with actionable guidance and practical tools they need to support a purpose-driven culture and apply core values, like inclusion, through their management practices and communication with employees.

5. Celebrate the accomplishments that drive a purpose-driven culture

Having a purpose-driven culture means that everyone has a hand in accomplishing something that is greater than themselves. Whether it’s bringing people entertainment, comfort, joy, efficiencies that free up time or something larger that ties to societal value—purpose can give rise to celebrations that go beyond profits alone. Pausing to celebrate those moments when your organization was able to affect people’s lives in a positive way is critical to forming the bonds that drive a purpose-driven culture. 

Next step: Take time to celebrate the ways your purpose-driven organization is making a difference—including the organization as a whole, as well as at the department, team and individual level.

I’ll leave you with these insights from talent management expert Christina Schmit, director of talent and culture at Renewal by Andersen, “Purpose-driven culture starts with a people-driven culture. It’s key to understand the heart of the people when building programs and processes around the changing work environment that we are living in. Achieving top results in a high-performing culture does not often happen organically—top performance is designed.” She adds that, “In correlation, achieving a culture of values, traditions and trust also doesn’t often happen organically. Culture must be guided. It needs to be authentic and genuine. It needs to involve empathy. Culture is how we retain, attract and align people.”

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Veronica Bocian